Tanzania has no vaccination plan, stirring controversy

2021-02-05 12:04:57

Dorothy Gwajima, Tanzania's health minister, has said the country has no plans to receive vaccines for COVID-19. The minister was addressing the press on Tuesday, just days after President John Pombe Magufuli expressed doubt about the vaccines without offering evidence. Gwajima touted the use of traditional medicines in the fight against COVID-19 and other diseases. "Many journalists have been asking about the COVID-19 vaccines and ways to prevent the disease in Tanzania. Unfortunately, the ministry of health has no plan to receive any of the vaccines being used in other countries for now," Gwajima said. The minister stressed cleanliness, washing hands, eating a balanced diet and exercising as effective methods to control COVID-19 and other diseases. She said traditional medicines and steam inhalation proved successful in treating many diseases. Last week, Magufuli warned his health ministry against rushing to adopt COVID-19 vaccines, suggesting the vaccines may not be safe or effective. While addressing his citizens in Western Tanzania on Jan 28, Magufuli expressed doubt about vaccines produced by Western countries. "If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, then vaccinations for AIDS would have been brought, tuberculosis would be a thing of the past, vaccines for malaria and cancer would have been found," Magufuli said. The president directed the ministry of health to adopt a vaccine only after it is certified by Tanzanian experts. He said Tanzanians must not be used as guinea pigs in vaccine trials. According to Gwajima, there are some traditional medicines against the virus which were approved by the government chemist and are already in the market for public consumption. "I am one of the people who have personally used these medicines and they really helped me and my family in different times. We have some of them here," Gwajima said. Gwajima also warned local media outlets not to report unofficial information on coronavirus or any disease. The warning came after the Catholic Church in Tanzania said it had observed an increase in requiem masses, blaming funerals on a spike in coronavirus infections. After Magufuli made his remarks last week, Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization's regional director for Africa, said the vaccines are safe and backed by science. "I am urging Tanzania to ramp up public health measures such as wearing masks to fight COVID-19. Science shows vaccines work and I encourage the government to prepare for a COVID-19 vaccination campaign. WHO is here to support the government and people of Tanzania," Moeti said. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, echoed Moeti's comments and called on Tanzania to be more collaborative in handling the virus. "I join Matshidiso Moeti's call for strong health measures and COVID-19 vaccine preparedness. Data-sharing by Tanzania is also key, with cases surfacing among travelers and visitors over the months," Ghebreyesus said. Tanzania has not updated its COVID-19 data since April last year, leaving the last number of reported confirmed cases at 509 and the death toll at 21. Those are also the latest figures the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention has in its records.